Tools I Use Most

When we bought our house, I started to do some home repair projects with my old, cheap tools.  It was a total disaster.  Not only was I a beginner at home repair, my tools were terrible and I was making my life so much harder than it needed to be.  As soon as I purchased just a few needed items at Home Depot, my stock rose and I got so much better at everything I did for our house.  Then it hit me.  The same thing applies to the kitchen.  The best chefs make it look so easy because...when you have good tools it actually IS so easy.  You don't have to break the bank to do it, either.  Here are a list of my no-fuss essentials for cooking.  You can find most of them in any kitchen store or Target.  But here's my biggest secret of all...the kitchen section of most TJ Maxx or Marshalls stores is stocked with amazing kitchen tools for bargain prices.  Start there and see what you can scrounge up.  If not, head to Target or Macy's and they'll have what you need.

I probably use at least one of these items every day and it makes my life so much easier.  These tools make me look totally competent and, until now, only I knew how easy it was.

1.  Le Creuset 5 1/2 Quart Round French Oven

This beauty is my most trusted kitchen accessory.  You certainly don't need to splurge on a fancy brand.  I got this one at the outlet store.  And by "I," of course I mean "my mom" got it for me.  She's a doll.  Martha Stewart makes a good one for Macys too, so you don't need to break the bank to have a great dutch oven.  Anything ceramic coated gives beautiful crust on your meat and distributes heat very evenly so that you get the perfect braise every time.  I swear, this pot does most of the work for me so my stews, chili, braised meats, and soups come out perfect every time.

2.  Manual Knife Sharpener

This thing is magic.  For $10, I transformed an ordinary set of kitchen knives into Top Chef material.  I swear by this thing.  I got it from Williams Sonoma after my very sweet friend Dr. Christine gave me a gift certificate.  I think of her every time I sharpen my knives.  It is so simple to use, lasts forever, and really makes a noticable difference.  Plus it is really small, so it fits in any kitchen drawer.  I got one for my parents' house too.  You don't have to go out and spend $500 on a fancy knife set.  I just give mine a sharpen every month or two and they are like new and give me great results while I am cooking.
3.  Rimmed Baking Sheets
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you can make everything that you put in the oven on a rimmed baking sheet.  Normal cookie sheets are totally flat, without edges, which is great for cookies, but if you are going to invest in only one sheet for the oven, make it a rimmed baking sheet (one big and one small).  I line mine with foil and roast whole chickens and chicken thighs or wings, whole pork loans or chops, whole fish fillets, any anything else you can think of.  I ALSO line them with a baking sheet and make my cookies on here.  One stop shop.  The little edge gives you that added security that you aren't going to have an accident and spill gunk all over your oven so that you either have to clean it up for hours or smell last week's dinner every time you turn on the oven.  Enough said.

Calphalon® Nonstick Brownie Pan & Baking Sheet Set4.  Cast Iron Skillet

I love to sear meat on the stovetop and then finish it in the oven.  There is no more versatile tool for this than the cast iron skillet.  They are cheap, durable and endlessly reliable.  High praise indeed.  They are a bit finicky about being washed, so you want to hand wash it and dry it immediately to avoid rust, but it is well worth it.  I often pass by my much more expensive frying pans in favor of this beauty.  Get one that is a decent size, but not fireside gigantic.  You want to be able to cook a decent meal for 4 in this sucker and it will be worth it because everything you make in here will be leftovers worthy.

CastIron12InchSkillet5. Microplane 

A microplane is what I think Alton Brown would call a "multitasker."  Whatever.  I'll buy single-use tools if I want thank-you-very-much, Alton.  This tool, however, is certainly not a one trick pony.  I zest any and every citrus fruit with thing along with perfectly grating hard cheeses, nutmeg or cinnamon.  However, the best of all is for grating garlic.  I use the microplane and it takes 2 seconds to get the most beautiful garlic paste imaginable.  I slather it all over garlic bread or use it to make rubs for meat.  This really is a great tool to have in your arsenal and this is another tool that you can find in any kitchen stores or Target.  The best part is that a decent one will really only run you about $10.
Microplane® Classic Series Premium Zester/Grater - Black

6.  Magic Bullet

This may seem really crazy, but I use this thing all the time.  I made soup (who said you couldn't blend things in batches of 2 or 3?!?!), pastes and rubs for slathering on meats before I grill or broil, and I make quick and easy salad dressings in this thing.  I am ashamed to say this, but I have not one, but two food processors (medium and large) and a blender.  I honestly use the magic bullet 50x more than I use those bigger, more expensive pieces of equipment because the bullet is so fast to get ready and cleans up so much faster in the dishwasher.  Since I use it so often, I probably buy a new one (about $20) every 12-18 months.  I'm hooked.

7.  Wooden Spoon 

I know it probably seems pretty ridiculous to list this as a "tool" that you should run out and buy, but I probably have about 20 fancy spatulas, whisks, and mixing gadgets.  The tool I use most for both making savory and sweet things is my trusty only wooden spoon.  I do have about 3 of them and I find that I always go back to it for maximum efficiency while I am cooking.  I do generally make a big mess in the kitchen and I generate 5 times as many dishes as I should while cooking, but there is just something about a good wooden spoon that keeps me coming back for more. 

8.  Large Glass Bowl 

I find that having a big, simple glass bowl does wonders for me.  It also doubles as the most frequently used serving bowl when I am having a party.  Even though I have a million pretty bowls, I always think the simple glass one is best.  It is super practical, because it makes it really easy for me to see what I am doing.  No clumps get stuck to the bottom, so giant pockets of one ingredient all stuck together.  I am able to see everything so I can evenly distribute my ingredients without too much hassle.  Done and done.

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